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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Shawn Johnson Beams After Finally Getting Gold

Bela Karolyi leaped from his seat in the NBC announcing booth and ran down press row, hugging reporters.
"Deep in my heart I wanted to see Shawn win," said Karolyi, who coached Mary Lou Retton and Nadia Comaneci to Olympic gold. "She really deserves it."

Johnson, who had been the defending all-around world champion, had been unable to find much favor with the Olympic judges, taking silver in team, all-around and floor exercise competition.

"She deserves every bit of the gold," said Valeri Liukin, Nastia's father and coach. "She has worked so hard."

Johnson, 16, who will be a junior at West Des Moines Valley High School when she returns home next week, beamed on the medal stand as she saluted the U.S. flag and listened to the national anthem. She waved a special "I love you" sign to her parents, Doug and Teri, sitting among the crowd of 18,000 in the National Indoor Stadium.

"It feels amazing to finish off the last routine of my Olympic experience with gold," Johnson said. "It means everything in the world."

She said it also was gratifying for her to get gold for her coaches, Liang Chow and Liwen Zhuang, former gymnasts in China.

"It's great that I made them proud," she said. "I carried on their legacy."

Chow, 40, who runs Chow's Gymanstics and Dance Institute in West Des Moines, was relieved that his star finally got a gold medal after three close calls in Beijing.

"She proved that she can do the balance beam," he said. "She showed the world and the judges that, after battles with the scores, she could keep fighting and fighting and get the gold.

"I'm so proud of her. She was running out of chances, and she still did it."

Johnson said she had a headache and a queasy stomach during warmups, when she did her routines seven times and made uncharacteristic mistakes.

"I didn't feel quite right," she said.

Chow snapped her out of it.

"I finally had to be firm," he said. " 'Shawn, please, wake up,' I said. She took the message."

After the final standings were posted, Johnson and her coach exchanged quick congratulations.

"Chow doesn't put things into words," Johnson said. "He holds things in."

But his pride was obvious.

"She had some pressure for gold," Chow said. "But she kept fighting right until the end."

Liukin, the all-around champion, took silver at 16.025 for her fifth medal in Beijing. She tied the U.S. gymnastics record of five Olympic medals at one Olympics held by Shannon Miller, who claimed five (two silver and three bronze) at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.

China's Fei Cheng took bronze.

Liukin was the reigning world champion on balance beam. She won the title in 2005 and 2007.

Johnson won the balance beam title at the 2007 Pan American Games, and was first at the Olympic Trials.

Liukin earned the silver medal on uneven bars after a tiebreaker with China's Kexin He, and took bronze on floor exercise.

Only one American, Miller, had won the Olympic balance beam gold, in 1996 at Atlanta.

The Soviet Union and former Eastern Bloc countries had won 13 of 15 championships in the event. Romanian gymnasts had won six golds.

Johnson scored 16.250 on the beam at the Olympic Trials and 16.300 at the national championships in June, and 16.325 at the American Cup in March. But Olympic judges had scored her lower across the board.

She received 15.975 in qualifying, 16.175 in team competition and 16.050 in the all-around final.


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